God’s Reflection is in Everything and Everyone: Remembering Rabbi Mendy Sasonkin

Blog by Associate Colette Parker

I remember the first time that I met Rabbi Mendy Sasonkin.

I didn’t know what to expect, except that he would not shake my hand (I had received that wisdom from a Conservative Rabbinic friend who said: “When you meet him, don’t take it personally, but he will not shake your hand.” He went on to explain that in keeping with the foundational Jewish value of modesty, an Orthodox Rabbi refrains from touching a woman other than his wife and immediate family).

I was thankful for that valuable information because it helped me avoid what could have been an awkward beginning to an introductory meeting with one of the spiritual leaders of a faith community that I was charged to cover as the religion writer for the local newspaper.

Over the years, I enjoyed building rapport with both Rabbi Sasonkin and his lovely and loving wife, Kaila.

Last week, Rabbi Sasonkin passed away (at the age of 54). When I got the news, I began to reflect on the intersection of our lives.

I recalled how there was something within him – an inner-contentment from knowing God and from his commitment to doing the will of God. That something within him, which I call God’s spirit, touched my inner spirit.

That remembrance led to my beautiful epiphany: Without using physical contact, Rabbi Sasonkin touched me in a most profound way. He embraced me with his spirit.

It didn’t matter that we were from two different faith traditions. I saw God’s reflection in him and he saw God’s reflection in me. We saw value, dignity, and worth in each other.

We had a kindred spirit connection. The light in his life made mine shine a little brighter.

I will remember what he said: “Thank God!” for everything.

I will remember what he did: Welcomed others with a warm smile, kindness, respect, and an open heart.

I will remember how he made me feel: Accepted, appreciated, and loved.

May he rest in peace.

May the Almighty comfort his family.

(Rabbi Menachem Mendel “Mendy” Sasonkin served Anshe Sfard Congregation-Revere Road Congregation in the greater Akron, Ohio area from 1995 until his death on October 2).

Posted in Associate Blog

What is your hope for the future of religious life?

Blog by Sr. Beata Tiboldi

Recently, we had a “Come and See” Retreat. (Click here to see a short video of the event.) The event included communal prayer, witness talks by Sr. Margie Davis OP and Sr. Mary Vuong OP about their vocation and ministry, conversations with Sisters who live in the motherhouse, an interview in the form of ‘burning questions,’ a guided tour exploring the history and heritage of the first Dominican Sisters in the USA, personal reflection time, social time and games.

I chose to share one conversation from the weekend for this blog. We interviewed a candidate, a temporary-professed Sister and a final professed Sister during one of the sessions. Although they didn’t have the time to ‘craft’ a response, I still found their responses very meaningful. I share one of them here below.

Annie Killian, retreat participant:
“Can you talk about your hopes for the future of religious life?”

Ellen Coates, 2nd year candidate:
“Thinking of ourselves as global congregations and working together, I really think that the power in numbers, the power in diversity of thinking and of experience, the power of prayer, as well as the power of ministry, and creating peace, all together, that we can do more that way globally. And I think that it will help strengthen and enrich religious life and it can help us make a bigger difference in the world.”

Sr. Ana Gonzalez OP, Temporary Professed Sister:
“I don’t know what the future of religious life is going to look like. We are not the mission; we are part of the mission. My hope for the future is: to be reliant and grounded in God. As long as we hold on and are rooted in God, we will be able to continue the tradition and mission of our 800-year old [Dominican] order.”

Sr. Carol Davis OP, Final Professed Sister:
“I hope we continue to be people of great passion and compassion; living the Word, preaching the Word, and continuing to be agents for change in the transformation of the world as we continue to evolve. That has ebbed and flowed over the years and God has continued to call people, men and women, to religious life. I think it will continue because I think the Church and the world needs us.”

Ellen Coates:
“Yes. And I don’t think God will let this resource die. I think that the future is going to be bright. It will probably take a lot of work, but the future is going to be bright.”

Sr. Carol Davis OP:
“[It’s] evolutionary

We invite you to pause for a second…
What is YOUR HOPE for the future of religious life?

If you feel God calling you to be part of this future, please contact our vocation team at vocations@oppeace.org .

Posted in God Calling?, News

Justice for Those who Provide our Food

Blog by Sr. Barbara Catalano

The wages you withheld from the workers who harvested your fields are crying aloud.  (James 5: 4) 

These words cried out to me from the second Mass reading last Sunday. Saint James is very strong in condemning the labor injustice on the farms of his day. The workers’ wages were being withheld by cruel masters and their misery cried out to Heaven for justice.

Actually, James could use the same words today about what happens in many of the fields of the U.S. One example is North Carolina where agriculture is the leading industry. Over 150,000 farm workers with their dependents work there during harvest season. The work is very labor-intensive especially the ‘stoop labor’ under a hot sun. Yet only 6 cents or less of every dollar the consumer will spend for that food goes to the farm worker.

A number of years ago I spent a ministry summer in North Carolina. One evening I helped teach English to the workers in the farm camps. I saw how hard they had to work for a pittance and how eager they were to learn. In one camp the men were from Haiti, and when they received their meager wages, they would walk to the nearest town to wire the money to their families back home.

The average annual income of the American farmworker is $11,000, making them the second lowest paid workforce in the nation. Farmworkers living in East Coast states such as North Carolina, earn about 35% less than that. The percentage of farmworker families living in poverty is nearly double that of other working families in the US.  In fact according to a 2006 study, nearly five out of 10 farmworker households in North Carolina reported not being able to afford enough food to feed their families.

Besides the low wages, there are many occupational hazards the workers must endure as well such as: poisoning due to pesticides, muscular and skeletal damage, eye damage, heat illness, and injuries resulting from operating dangerous equipment. Taken together these frequent health issues make agriculture one of the three most dangerous occupations in the United States. To make matters worse, most growers are exempt from laws requiring Workers’ Compensation for farmworkers; safety laws are absent; and, there is no protection from employer retaliation under North Carolina and federal law for farmworkers. They may not unionize, or receive extra compensation for working overtime, or take sick leave. Add to this, the labor laws for farm workers allow children as young as 10 to work under certain conditions and with their parents’ consent.

The impact of Hurricane Florence is ongoing and will affect these farmworkers even more. If you want more information or feel God is calling you to help, contact the North Carolina Justice Center (http://www.ncjustice.org). They conduct regular visits with volunteers to the camps where migrant farmworkers live in order to advise them of their rights, and provide legal representation to those whose rights have been violated. In addition, they advocate for laws that improve the working and living conditions of migrant workers.

Posted in News, Peace & Justice Blog

Autumn and the Courage to Let Go, Let God

Blog by Sr. Amy McFrederick, OP

I don’t remember a September/October when I didn’t feel a resistance to the coming of Autumn, though the fall colors never cease to surprise and delight me. Though a recurring part of the changing seasons—the prospect of trees inevitably letting go of their glorious foliage, soon to be stripped down to their bare branches for winter–gives a poignancy to the fleeting beauty. Autumn Trees demonstrate to me much courage and faith: to let go, let God when Spring is nowhere in sight.

Recently in a phone visit with Associate Pat Krause, as she shared about her ongoing ministry to/with her brother who suffers from dementia. For both of them it is a daily letting go.  She recalled a reflection that she had shared as an Associates’ Prayer Page in April, 2014 and how it still holds much meaning, and continues to be a source of inspiration and strength for her today.

Since so many people in our lives today have a family member, friend or acquaintance with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia—and suffer with them—Pat’s reflection is relevant for all of our readers.

by Patricia Krause, OPA

“Will you come and follow Me if I but call your name?  Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same? Will you let my love be shown, will you let my name be known, will you let my life be grown in you and you in Me?“ –“The Summons” by John L. Bell

As I knelt there in St. Anne’s Church after Communion, these words from the song “The Summons” were being sung. Tears began to roll down my cheeks and I could hardly restrain my sobs. You see, just that week my brother who has dementia had to be placed in an Alzheimer’s Unit. As I pondered these words they appeared to be spoken to him, and I could only imagine how frightening these words could be for my brother and any person suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s,  if they did not have faith and trust in God.

In Alzheimer’s and dementia, one is called to a place where one does not know and never will be the same. Accepting God’s call to the unknown allows God’s love to be shown to those who care for them and love them. That person is asked to leave themselves—who they were—behind, and in doing so risk the hostile stare of others who cannot, or will not, see who they are. We must enter into their world in order to meet the person they are. The person themselves and we who love them are asked to love the person they have become. They must wrestle with the fear of who they are, and through this, reshape  the world by admitting others into this sacred space. God has called my brother and so many others on this journey and though this summons is not to anyone’s liking nor what the world would recognize as anything but folly, God has selected these precious people to be His gift to others. God and God’s love is revealed in these chosen—through our sight, sound and touch—if we are willing to see beyond what was and what now is.

Now is the moment of our metanoia –
A season of change; a time of forward movement.
Together we rejoice in the abundance and fullness of life
Which we are called to embrace and to share.
Our Transformation.  Our Spring.
(Ministry of the Arts)

I will not die but live and declare the deeds of our God.  Ps 118:17


Posted in Associate Blog, News